15 Things to Know if You Want to Put on a Wine Dinner (Part One)

As many of you know, I have been putting on wine dinners at a local restaurant for the better part of a year (the next one is on January 20th, send me an email [jeff (at) thedrunkencyclist (dot)com] if you are interested).

I have wanted to do it for a several years, but I was always worried that it would be far too much work for very little reward. When I finally decided to do it, I found there was a dearth of information of all that goes into it available on the internet.

Although I am far from an expert, there are a few things that I have learned that may (or may not) be of use as you try to plan your own event.admin-ajax2

I have split the tips up into what to do before the event and what you needs to happen at the event itself. For today, I will focus on the former:

  1. IMG_3626

    Get the wines organized as soon as you can and let the chef know what they are.

    Have a theme. Even though this is certainly not vital (my first “theme” was “Wines currently on the by-the-glass menu” but it was really “Excess bottles that the restaurant wanted to clear out of stock.”), it will help as you try to wax poetically about the wines, how they pair with the food, and why you chose them. Unless the restaurant has a bunch of wines on their list already that you would like to use (and this is doubtful–if they had exceedingly interesting wines, that means someone is already there with wine knowledge and they therefore would not need you), you are going to need to order the wines and get them in well before hand. In Pennsylvania, this is a huge ordeal. Understand that the wines you may want might not be wines the restaurant wants to buy (usually due to cost).

  2. Hold the dinner during the week. Restaurants do most of their business on the weekend, so they will likely be more amenable to weeknight events. When pitching the idea, suggest a Tuesday, Wednesday, or even Thursday night. You might think that customers will be disinclined to attend a mid-week event, but they will come as long as they know about it.
  3. Limit the number of people. More than likely, the restaurant will be averse to this proposal as they would like you to fill the restaurant completely, but that would diminish the experience for everybody. It also makes ordering the wine tougher. I limit my dinners to 20 people, which means four bottles of each wine (I plan on one bottle serving five people–you could certainly get more people out of a bottle, but I will talk more about that in Part 2).
  4. For one of the dinners, this was posted in the restaurant as advertisement.

    For one of the dinners, this was posted in the restaurant as advertisement.

    The restaurant may or may not have a plan to get people in the door. I have worked with a couple of managers now and they seemed to have different approaches, but they ended up with the same result: neither one really did anything to bring patrons to the event. Look, I get it. Restaurants are (hopefully) busy places and there is a lot happening on any given night, but in my opinion, it would not take much effort on the part of the restaurant to bring at least a few people in. For whatever reason, out of the half-dozen or so dinners I have done thus far, it would not take more than two hands to count how many total people came due to the efforts of the restaurant. By far, the majority of the attendees I contacted through either email or social media. I create an event on Facebook and invite all my friends in the area, allowing them to invite others as well. There is also Local Wine Events where you can post the event (although I am pretty sure that I have not received any traffic from this). If the restaurant uses Open Table, they will likely have an email list that they can blast with the event. I have not done this yet, because I have been able to get enough people without it.

  5. Settle on your fee up front. I hate asking people for money. Hate it. But I forced myself to do it when I started doing this since I knew it would involve a ton of my time. Even though it might be fun, or like me, you might want to so it for the experience, you are bringing both expertise and money into the restaurant and you deserve to be compensated. I would strongly suggest that you settle on a flat rate: my first couple dinners I was to be paid per paying customer and I found that I was far too concerned with how many people came through the door than with actually producing a fun and informative evening for the people who actually did show up. It is unlikely that you will make a fortune doing these, so keep that in mind. I would be happy to let you know what I make: just drop me an email. The next time I negotiate a fee, I will push for a flat fee plus a percentage of the tips.
  6. This menu changed at least four times in the three days leading up to the event.

    This menu changed at least four times in the three days leading up to the event.

    Have a firm understanding of what people will be charged. I have been burned by this a couple of times: I had been told that tax and tip would be included in the advertised price only to have the manager at the restaurant change his mind once the people were already in their seats. Not cool. Not cool at all, but at the end of the day, it was my fault for not getting a clear understanding from the beginning.

  7. There is no such thing as “the menu is set.” No matter what, there will be changes to the menu and you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Sure, that delicate Oregon Pinot Noir would have been perfect with the pork loin that was originally planned, but when it gets swapped out for some venison at the last minute, you better be ready to either switch the order of the wines or make that Pinot work.

Have you ever put on a wine dinner at a restaurant? I would love to hear about your experience!


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Philadelphia with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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23 Responses to 15 Things to Know if You Want to Put on a Wine Dinner (Part One)

  1. So I am not the only one that hates asking money for something I can talk about for days. My wife declared me insane after I wanted to speak for a group a whole evening for free, the preparation only took a small week.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kat Collins says:

    I would love more info on the dinner!

    Kat Collins http://www.humblewinesnob.com Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  3. harriswine says:

    I love this article. I am trying to do a wine dinner in Portland (OR) in the spring. There are valuable tips here. I will email you with more questions if you don’t mind. And want to hear about cycling in Europe! Cheers, Vanessa

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Duff's Wines says:

    Perfect timing, Jeff. I am in the midst of arranging a dinner. I have done a lot of corporate event tastings (more entertainment than education. Read: drinking) and informal tastings too with the food representing the region but never in a restaurant. I am struggling with the fee as you have. I’m not uncomfortable with assessing my time, etc. and setting a fee. Its just that I haven’t done that with something that’s a passion – it was a JOB and Dufton Inc.had a price structure.
    I have had good luck so far with restaurant management but am now more aware of the issues thanks to you. Menu an eye opener – hadn’t thought about that. Plus, yes, they want to dump wine. I’ve allowed them a couple but insist on creative freedom on the rest. Will let you know how it goes.
    P.S. Wish I lived closer – would love to attend. Love Philly!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great tips — looking forward to the next installment. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Chuck says:

    Great stuff! Thanks for this post, really helpful as I move forward.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. gwain609 says:

    A couple of additional suggestions:

    Another item is somewhere to finish the dinner, have found that at the dinners I have arranged there is usually a few who would like to discuss the dinner over another drink or three after it has finished.

    As I live in another country making sure that there is a tip for the staff is available at the end of the dinner, this is not standard practice is some countries, but if you want to return and do another dinner a good idea!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed! There are a few who stay around for a while after the event is officially “over.” When I can stay, I do, and when I can’t, I leave them with the open bottles. Telling them to throw in some additional tip is a good suggestion!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. d d b says:


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Also very relevant for me as this is a primary goal for me for 2016. I’d like to start hosting regular wine dinners. My first challenge has been just approaching the restaurant and selling them on the idea of a wine dinner. As I prefer doing business based on relationship, and I don’t have any relationships with area restaurants, I have trouble breaking the ice. I am, however, forcing myself to stop in to 3 restaurants today to talk with each of them about the idea. Something I’ll be testing out: BYO wine dinners. In NJ there are more BYO restaurants than not and so I’m hoping this will give me some more flexibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My experience has been that it is certainly easier if you have a relationship with the restaurant (as a customer, friend, etc.). The first one is definitely the hardest but I was able to get a few friends to come and it has really taken off since then. BYO in Pennsylvania is actually tougher since it is illegal to charge people for the wine. There are some who do it, for sure, but it is a big no-no. Luckily, I have not had to go that route yet….


      • The same applies in NJ actually, too, so that’s been a bit of my challenge. The way I am structuring it is to announce a theme and tell everyone to bring a bottle according to that theme. I’ll certainly bring a few bottles of my own and offer to share, but they are really going to be paying for the instruction/discussion, not the wine. I stopped into 4 restaurants yesterday and all of them were interested!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, let me know how it goes and if I can help in any way. My experience has been that it is tough to get people to pay if they are the ones bringing the wine. The BYOs that I have spoken to were all interested too, and many of them are willing to have me bring all the wine and charge the customers. I am not sure if they understand that it is illegal, figure that I would be the one held culpable (at least in PA, the restaurant would be held responsible as well), or if they just don’t care….


  11. chef mimi says:

    A great idea, really, that I’ve never thought of, only because if I planned a wine dinner I’d do all the cooking, then just work too hard. I guess this would really work if you knew the chef/owner really well and could trust them on the details of the plan. Sounds fun!


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